Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN: 9780199267507; 304pp.; Price: £68.00
University of Staffordshire
Date accessed: 2 December, 2023
In Spying on Science, Paul Maddrell has provided an excellent account of the early and very difficult period of the Cold War, when tensions between East and West had emerged and relations between the 'big three' (the USSR, the USA and Britain) were deteriorating rapidly, finally reaching the critical point signified by the Berlin blockade. The focus on Germany reminds us of the geopolitical importance of that country, and also the 'problem' it became during the 20th century following its defeat in the First World War, the rise of Nazism and the Second World War. The perennial question of 'what to do with Germany' emerged again as the Grand Alliance began to disintegrate. In contrast with 1918, the world of 1945 was a much more complex place and Europe was no longer a key player in the game of international politics. The atomic bomb had been used against Japan to end the war, and international relations entered a bi-polar phase with America and Russia positioned as the two serious contenders for world power.
Maddrell's painstaking and methodical research, undertaken in German archives and in interviews with people involved in intelligence and propaganda during the early Cold War, clearly illustrates for us both the very real threat of conflict with Russia felt by Washington and London as the alliance began to break up, and also the strategies they evolved and implemented to deal with this. It is a new area of research, and an immensely interesting one that has largely been overlooked in the historiography of the Cold War. It is also an important addition to our knowledge of that period, and increases our understanding of the tensions between East and West, the rapid escalation of the Cold War in terms of the arms race, biological and chemical warfare, and more specifically, the rapid recognition in the West of the potential of intelligence and propaganda as weapons in a 'Cold War' situation when a 'hot' war was to be avoided at all costs.
Drawing heavily on records of the former East German Ministry of State Security and the National Archive in London (formerly the PRO, Kew), Maddrell provides an incredibly detailed account of the acquisition of intelligence on the current and future Soviet weaponry by western - chiefly British - intelligence agencies in Germany during the period between the end of the Second World War and the building of the Berlin Wall. This, according to Maddrell, was when the fear of actual war was at its greatest. Intelligence on the capability of the USSR, therefore, was a crucial component as an adjunct to traditional methods of warfare as it would provide the West with the ability to stay ahead in the arms race.
In 1945, the importance of intelligence (particularly human intelligence) supplemented by a diet of espionage and subversion could not be over-estimated. Whitehall was ahead of the game in its recognition of this scenario and in its evolution and implementation of a strategy to counter the Soviet threat. Scientific intelligence would provide information about Soviet intentions and capability in the field of biological and scientific warfare, their military and technological development and, crucially, their acquisition and planned expansion in the field of atomic and thermonuclear weapons. Much of this information would come from human intelligence through the public space of a divided Germany, which offered a unique window of opportunity for the transfer of people, information and intelligence.
Maddrell points out that the British were leaders in the collection of scientific intelligence during this time, a period which he suggests saw the 'greatest revolution in military technology in history', with both the USA and the USSR developing atomic and thermonuclear weapons, guided missiles and long-range bombers to carry them to their destination. By 1961 both countries had intercontinental ballistic missiles with which each could do devastating damage. One of the strengths of this book is the very clear and real sense of the rapid and revolutionary ways in which the arms race was emerging at this time, and the threats posed by scientific and biological warfare as well as the atomic bomb, which had been used by the USA with devastating effect on the people of Japan. Atomic bombs also delivered a message of sinister clarity to the USSR in political propaganda in August 1945.
This transformation of weaponry and the huge commitment of resources required to achieve it led to the formation in advanced countries of military industrial-academic complexes. The key concerns to defence planners are here identified as atomic, biological and chemical (ABC) weapons, guided missiles and electronics. Intelligence of the development of these technologies in the USSR was pursued for it was logical that no possible aggressor could make preparations without noticeable indications. Good intelligence would provide information and, it was hoped, give decision-makers the rudimentary ability to predict future Soviet behaviour. This is classic intelligence theory put into practice - and a reading and application of Michael Handel's 'politicisation of intelligence' theory would be an interesting exercise, particularly in locating the weaknesses or misunderstandings of analysis and decision-making at the time. (1)
American and British policy towards the USSR was a dual track one of 'exploitation and denial'. Exploitation took the form of information, skills, expertise and intelligence gained from key scientists and academics involved in the development of Soviet weaponry and technology who through inducements to leave the eastern German Democratic Republic (GDR) defected to the West. Their defection provided a wealth of material, much of it mundane and some of it important. All of this intelligence was carefully gathered and fed back to the centre through the Scientific and Technical Intelligence Branch (STIB) of the Intelligence Division, a small specialist team of interrogators who were employed to question defectors, refugees and ex-prisoners of war (POW) in order to extract scientific and technical information which might be useful to the West. This was part of the strategy which aimed to force the USSR to abandon satellites gained during the latter years of the Second World War. Defection was seen to have a powerful psychological impact and was, therefore, a key element in the West's psychological warfare strategy. It denied key resources to the Communist regime, made useful people available to the West and was exploited in propaganda as a means of counteracting the idea that Communism was a 'better' social system. This, it was believed, would push the East onto the political defensive. Finally, it caused resentment to grow behind the Iron Curtain while discrediting their politicians and military commanders. Defection was seen as a powerful instrument as it put the Soviets under as much strain as possible. The USSR's condemnation of efforts to encourage defection appeared to confirm to the West that the strategy, which increased its own power at the cost of the communists, was one worth pursing.
This policy of exploitation through defection provided the West with the opportunity to practice the second strand of their policy: 'denial'. As well as providing the West with information from individuals, defections from the East also deprived the Soviets of expertise, skills and knowledge. Therefore, the denial of scientists, technicians, biological chemists and other individuals important to the Soviet war-making apparatus was achieved by encouraging them to migrate to become spies for the West, or to move to America or Britain to provide intelligence of the Soviet infrastructure and its development. Measures were also put in place to stop workers from going over to the GDR to work. In addition, the denial of war-making resources was achieved through their inclusion in an embargo of strategic goods crucial to scientific and biological development adopted throughout all the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries and others under the leadership of America.
The ideal place for these activities was in four-zoned Berlin, where the ingredients necessary for 'exploitation and denial' operations could be found. Because of the ease of travel across the city (the borders were not secure) any East German could easily make a trip to the West and back. West Berlin offered a crucial gap in the Iron Curtain which provided large-scale espionage opportunities to the West. In addition, Soviet imperialism created opportunities for the West because its use of German scientific workers, POWs and material resources in post-war weapons development and military reconstruction made Germans potential informants.
This strategy brought some rewards: the West gained information from Soviet POWs of the location of some 100 chemical factories and 80 other installations, which according to Maddrell had 'long-term significance'. One of these was the Shikani, a gas factory in the Volga, which was the Soviet principal chemical weapons testing range. Another such installation was the Central Military Chemical Range, identified in 1987 in a landmark admission by the USSR that they did hold chemical weapons.
The book outlines for us the establishment and evolution of the different agencies and organisations that would put this preferred policy into practice. It also establishes that while Britain was an early Cold War warrior full collaboration with America in both policy and method was vital for its defence. Military collaboration required intelligence collaboration. An additional strength of this book is the detail given in the description of the relationship between the Joint Scientific Intelligence Committee, the Joint Technical Intelligence Committee, MI6 and the CIA.
Maddrell also gives information about counter-intelligence operations, including those concerning the atomic bomb, where the Soviet defector Gouzenko confirmed the penetration of Los Alamos and thus the Manhatten Project. In fact the decryption of cables sent from Soviet offices in America to Moscow by the Venona project revealed that the atomic and nuclear programme had been 'deeply penetrated'. He gives details of Klaus Fuchs's counter-intelligence operations and his confession, which also identified other spies at Los Alamos, among them the Briton Donald Maclean.
Maddrell's research shows that the USA widened its embargo on the Soviets to include non-war related goods, for he argues that until the 1970s the USA was keen to wage economic warfare on the USSR in any way that would weaken the Eastern Bloc's economies and deny them hard currency. In fact he argues that from 1946 where the USA led, others followed. For example, the USA applied pressure through the Marshall Plan, which it used as a 'lever', while also imposing its embargo on members of the Organisation for European Economic Community. It seems that 'co-operation with the willing was supplemented by prescription for the unwilling'.
Maddrell successfully paints a picture of American fears of the Soviets, which were intense in the early Cold War years, and highlights their foreign policy objective of undermining the USSR's control in the Eastern Bloc countries and forcing the Kremlin to give-up in East Germany. Encouraging skilled people to flee would damage the GDR and make it unviable; consequently, in this critical intelligence operation the Americans, British and Germans would work together closely.
The American-British collaboration is highlighted throughout this work, and Maddrell believes that American policy was formulated by the 'brilliant George Kennan'. He was the author of the critical Cold War intelligence telegram Article NSC68, which aimed to reduce Soviet power without resorting to war thereby forcing the USSR to abandon aggression and subversion. Thus the policy of containment and rollback emerged as a direct result of intelligence and the growing perception of the threat of the Soviets as the decade came to a close. But Maddrell points out that the Soviet states were not weak - the communists were ruthlessly brutal, and American and British subversion attempts were consistently defeated by their formidable opponents in the Soviet security services. By the mid 1950s this aggressive containment became 'competitive co-existence'. The suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 showed how little subversion could achieve as long as the communists were willing to act ruthlessly to retain their rule.
This book has much to offer to scholars of the Cold War and those involved in intelligence studies. With an easily accessible, contextual analysis of the complexity of intelligence and propaganda as instruments of the West in its determination to challenge the threat of the Soviet Union, it provides stimulating reading and adds to our knowledge of this often overlooked area of historical enquiry.
- M. Handel, 'The Politics of Intelligence', Intelligence and National Security, 2 (1987), 5-46. Back to (1)
I am grateful to Dr Elkes for reading my book very carefully. Her review provides a good summary of its contents, though she might wish to look again at what I and others say about NSC-68 (which was also the work of Paul Nitze rather than George Kennan). As the review indicates, my book puts forward arguments relating to several themes of post-war German and international history: the role of scientific intelligence in post-Second World War policy-making in Britain; the significance of the division of Germany for intelligence collection; the character of the containment policy adopted by the US government in the later 1940s; the Soviet Union's post-war arms build-up; communist security policy in the German Democratic Republic (GDR); and the significance of security considerations for the GDR and the Soviet Union in the second Berlin crisis of 1958-63. It brings together German history, intelligence history and diplomatic history, which is very unusual. I sometimes describe it as 'the secret history of the Berlin Wall', which I think an apt description.
Dr Elkes's review focuses on explaining what the book says. In this response, I would like to comment on the archives I used. The book was researched in Britain, Germany and the United States. My major sources were records of the British Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office held at The National Archives in London (then known as the Public Record Office) and records of the GDR's Ministry of State Security (or Stasi), held since the GDR's collapse by a special authority established by the German parliament, the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU for short). The British records are overwhelmingly intelligence files compiled by scientific intelligence officers who in the years 1946-58 gathered intelligence in Germany on Soviet developments in war-related science, both in East Germany and in the Soviet Union itself, by questioning refugees, defectors, deserters, contacts and former prisoners-of-war. These sources were available to them chiefly because of the open border between the two Germanies, which remained open longest in Berlin (it was only closed there on 13 August 1961, when the so-called 'Berlin Wall' was built). It was the open border which allowed refugees, defectors and deserters to make their escape to the West. The British records shed little light on spying on scientific targets in East Germany and the USSR because the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) does not release any of its records to The National Archives. The intelligence records I used (mainly those of a unit responsible to the Ministry of Defence called the 'Scientific and Technical Intelligence Branch') were only released because the unit's sources were not spies. The records were released in the mid-1990s as part of the Waldegrave Initiative on Open Government. This ground-breaking release of post-Second World War scientific intelligence records was the first of its kind, and they shed much light on post-war British Intelligence. My PhD thesis, entitled 'Britain's Exploitation of Occupied Germany for Scientific and Technical Intelligence on the Soviet Union' (Cambridge University, 1999), was the first piece of scholarly work to make use of them. The thesis is available for perusal in the Manuscripts Room of Cambridge University Library.
However, I saw while researching my thesis that the division of Germany was also central to the success of the espionage conducted by British and other western agencies in Germany in the years up to 1961. So if the thesis were to be turned into a proper book it would have to examine spying on scientific targets in East Germany. It also needed to extend right up to August 1961, instead of stopping in 1958, when the remnant of the Scientific and Technical Intelligence Branch was closed down. Since SIS has no archive at The National Archives, it was pointless to research into British espionage there. I could have shifted the focus to American espionage - which I do examine - but the Central Intelligence Agency is also careful to give out little information about its spies and operational methods. Of course, it does release records on matters more distant from actual spying, such as the information obtained from spies; I found this kind of material very useful.
Therefore, the best option was to apply to the BStU to see records of its counter-espionage service on western spying. This I did. The law which created the BStU, the Stasi-Unterlagen-Gesetz of 1991, requires that the research conducted with its help be into the Stasi. So the BStU did not like my application because it regarded it as using the availability of Stasi records to research into operations of western secret services, rather than those of the Stasi itself. The reality is that some categories of record, such as counter-espionage files, will shed light on both. Moreover, I wished to study how the Stasi proceeded against foreign intelligence services, which is part of the Stasi's own history. Although the BStU accepted that my application was a proper one, for years it processed the application in such a way as to defeat it, rather than take it to a successful conclusion. The historian does not himself conduct research at the BStU. The research is done for him or her by a case officer, who orders files from the archives. Only if s/he decides that the information contained in them can be made available are the files transferred to the historian. Information that infringes the privacy of others is blacked out. The research work undertaken by my BStU case officers was, for a long time, poor in quality and too cautious to give the application a chance of achieving the results I was aiming for. However, persistence prevailed. In the end I was given precisely what I had always applied for: counter-espionage records on arrested spies of western secret services. Specifically, the records are those of Line IX (part of the Stasi's counter-espionage service responsible for interrogating arrested spies). Chapters six and nine of the book are largely based on these records.
The result is a very original book. It is the first book ever to use Stasi records to examine western espionage. Line IX's records shed light on the spies themselves, which is very rare. Such material could only be obtained from counter-espionage records, since a secret service would never reveal this kind of information about spies it was running itself. The book is able to cover the whole range of human intelligence sources available and to consider them throughout the period 1945-61. It proves that this represented a distinct era in intelligence collection in Germany: one in which human intelligence sources were particularly valuable. It thus ties intelligence history to the broader political history of the period, as well as the history of scientific and technological development, as Dr Elkes observes. Lastly, it shows that a policy of induced defection was adopted by the US government in the early 1950s as a means of undermining the GDR. This was alleged by the GDR at the time, though the communists exaggerated the reality. The book draws on quite recently declassified records at the Truman and Eisenhower presidential libraries, as well as Stasi records, to show that there was some truth to the allegation. The book fuses western and communist records in support of a convincing argument about western intelligence operations in the early Cold War, contributing both to intelligence history and to the broader history of the Cold War.